Community-Led Innovation: Transforming How We Collaborate

Posted on April 4, 2023
By Tamarack Institute



This blog post was co-authored by Sonja Miokovic, the Tamarack Institute's Consulting Director for Community Innovation, and Liz Weaver, Tamarack's co-CEO.

Since the start of 2023, members of the Tamarack community have been writing and curating 12 articles for the esteemed Social Innovations Journal’s March 2023 edition and we are thrilled to share them with you. 

With both internal and external contributors, the articles explore the following themes: 

  • The Evolution of Social and Community Innovation 
  • Applying Social and Community Innovation in Place 
  • Tools to Advance Your Social and Community Innovation Practice 


Sharing Our Perspectives 

Social innovation practice is at the forefront of transformational change. Social Innovation Canada describes this work as innovation to drive social, environmental, and economic outcomes. It is a process that investigates the root causes of a complex issue or problem, and through a set of tools and frameworks, collectively seeks to develop prototypes which begin to untangle the complexity.  

Tamarack and our partners contributed to the March 2023 issue of the Social Innovations Journal to share our perspectives about innovation, place-based change, and promising practices for transforming communities. The objectives of the Social Innovations Journal are to:  

  • Incubate new ideas 
  • Promote and develop regional social leadership and entrepreneurship across the country 
  • Provide a unique vehicle for professionals who work in a region’s social sector to share their best practices as well as the successes and failures of innovative ideas 
  • Enable opportunities for new and existing social innovators and entrepreneurs to receive greater visibility and be considered for leadership advancement, helping to keep a greater concentration of social sector talent in a region 
  • Benchmark social innovators against other innovators with similar ideas, locally and beyond 
  • Create a focal point for national foundations, corporations, government, socially responsible businesses, and policymakers around a region’s social sector leadership and as a resource for social sector service and product development (Social Innovations Journal) 


Four Big Ideas about Social Innovation Centered in Place 

In March’s 2023 issue, the articles authored by Tamarack, Social Innovation Canada, Here to There Consulting, the Strive Partnership and others focus on four big ideas:  

  • Social innovation is a driver of systems change 
  • Communities are unique platforms for social innovation 
  • Social capital is essential for community innovation 
  • Social and Community Innovation requires investment, tools, and practice 

Social Innovation as a driver of systems change 

Social innovation approaches are a powerful force for driving systems change, as they challenge the status quo, promote collaboration and engagement, and create new models and frameworks for addressing complex social and environmental challenges. What we’ve learned is that the process of creating lasting change on complex challenges takes time and requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. The collaborators – or “enablers'' – of social innovation include but are not limited to intermediaries, such as the Field Catalyst, academic institutions, governments, foundations, investors, and corporations. When we take an ecosystem view and pair an innovative idea with activities at other levels and scales, the process of creating change will be more effective. These actions can build off each other, create pressure on the system, and become leverage points for change. These mutually reinforcing actions are essential to making an impact. 

Communities are unique platforms for social Innovation 

The articles in the Social Innovations Journal highlight examples of place-based approaches which are transforming social issues. Weaving social innovation into the work of community collaboration and collective change can lead to powerful results. Prototyping a participatory grant making approach in the Peel Region in Ontario, Canada; engaging a diverse network of cradle to career education efforts, and advancing climate, gender, racial, and income equity are examples of how social innovation practices can speed the pace of change and impact.  

Social capital is essential for community innovation 

Place-based innovation practice benefits from communities where there is a rich and interconnected network of leaders who are willing to work collectively. Communities which are fractured and siloed or have too many competing priorities found it more challenging to scale change. The Tamarack Institute also identified the need for including those most impacted by the complex challenge must be included in conversations and strategy development. Social capital is about building trust and relationship. Communities with strong social capital will be more successful in achieving transformative outcomes.  

Social and community innovation requires investment, tools, and practice 

Achieving social innovation and transformation outcomes requires the investment of human and financial resources and the building of community capacity through practice. This issue of the Social Innovations Journal makes the case for embedding a place-based approach to the practice of social innovation. The tools and practices can contribute to a deeper understanding of the complexity of social and environmental issues and identify strategies for moving forward. A community or place-based focus enables a unique living laboratory to scale change.  

Next Steps 

We invite you to explore the articles in the March 2023 edition of the Social Innovations Journal and share your perspectives with Tamarack. We are continuing to draw the connections between social innovation, place-based change and deepen our understanding of what it takes to achieve transformational change and impact. We would like to thank and acknowledge the Social Innovations Journal for providing this incredible opportunity to publish a special issue of the journal on place-based change and social innovation. We would also like to acknowledge and thank the contributing authors to this edition of the Social Innovations Journal. Your perspectives are appreciated.  

Read Tamarack’s Contributions to the Social Innovations Journal: 

  1. Dear Reader
  2. All Hands On Deck: Enabling Social Innovation
  3. The Role of Innovation in Systems Change
  4. The Innovation Ambition Continuum
  5. Accelerating Community Innovation: The Role of the Field Catalyst
  6. Unlocking the Power of Community Innovation
  7. Youth Leading Community Innovation: Communities Building Youth Futures
  8. Communities for Climate, Gender, Racial, and Income Equity: Seizing our Interrelated Opportunities
  9. Participatory Grantmaking: Ceding Decision-making Power to Local Communities in Peel
  10. Social Capital: Creating Connections to Foster Community Innovation
  11. Government Sustaining Community Innovation
  12. Building for Impact: Building Sustainable Collaborations
  13. Collaborative Governance – Leveraging People and Process

Liz Weaver, Social Innovation, Sonja Miokovic

Tamarack Institute

By Tamarack Institute

The Tamarack Institute is a connected force of more than 40,000 engaged practitioners and policymakers who work collaboratively to advance positive community change. Learn more here

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